GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been pumping large sums of cash into expansion of its vaccine manufacturing operations and today, the company announced an investment of €250 ($272 million) into building a new unit for freeze-drying vaccines at its Wavre campus in Belgium.
Wavre is located southeast of Brussels and is the world’s largest vaccine production site. A GSK spokesperson said the new unit in the city will be operational by 2027.
The facility will support GSK’s expanding vaccine portfolio, which includes its newly approved vaccine Arexvy for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which was first approved in older adults earlier this year and as a maternal vaccine last month.
GSK said the new unit will house both non-living vaccines, such as the shingles and RSV shots, and live inoculations against measles and varicella. The British drugmaker expects to produce tens of millions of vaccine doses a year.
In addition to its RSV vaccine, the company is prepping for increasing demand for its shingles shot Shringix, thanks to strong marketing campaigns, as well as its malaria shot Mosquirix. Both vaccines will be manufactured at the new Wavre unit.
Arexvy is expected to be a major growth driver for GSK. It will be going up against Pfizer’s Abrysvo in older adults beginning during this year’s RSV season.
GSK experienced problems with production of Shringrix, which delayed the vaccine’s launch in China. Those problems appear to have been addressed as sales of Shringrix rose by a whopping 60 percent after the pandemic to £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in 2022.
And demand for the vaccine has been growing outside the US as well. In the first half of 2023, sales of the vaccine grew by 16 percent to £1.7 billion ($2.1 billion).
Belgium has quickly become a major vaccine production hub. The country houses two other GSK vaccine sites in Rixensart and Gembloux. Pfizer has a site in Puurs, which was especially notable as it served as a major production site for its BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine.
“The COVID pandemic has opened the world’s eyes to what we have here in Belgium,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at the site. “We see biopharma is becoming much more geostrategic than it used to be. We see other countries are looking with an interested eye at what is happening in Belgium, so we take measures to stay on top.”
Belgium is investing around €1.5 billion a year in biotech, according to Emmanuel Amory, head of GSK in Belgium. Currently, Belgium is home to more than 140 biotech companies and startups. GSK alone invests between €300 million and €500 million in Belgium a year.
To support its expanding vaccine operations, GSK is setting up shop in other places as well. This year, construction began on GSK’s $254 million drug substance facility at its Tuas site in Singapore. The site will make the company’s hepatitis vaccine Engerix-B. Commercial production at the site will also commence in 2027.